Neetu Rajpal has served as Conductor’s VP of Engineering for the past 3 years, building and leading the strongest engineering team in the marketing tech field. But her incredible service to Conductor is just beginning: as Conductor’s new CTO, she will be tasked with unprecedented growth for both her team (doubling our R&D team in the next year) and the technology they are building.
We sat down with Neetu to learn what has brought her to this point in her career, and what the future looks like for Conductor R&D.
Christine Schrader: What’s brought you — personally and professionally — to this position?
Neetu Rajpal: I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about this question, but my answer is frankly anti-climactic: I passionately dislike being bored. For as long as I can remember, I have chased challenges. As someone who is always extremely curious about everything, I like to understand how things work and what drives them. That desire is really my primary driver but that’s not the only thing that has brought me this far in my career.
Other factors are a willingness to work hard, a large contingent of people (men, women and children) who believe in me, have given me chances, advice, honest feedback, encouragement and my absolute favorite: challenges. I have been very lucky to have people around me who had exacting standards and really high expectations for both themselves and me.
When I was in 10th grade in India, I was the only girl in electronics class and some boys made fun of me (my teacher held them back and created space for me to just learn and be me). I couldn’t understand it: it had never occurred to me to that there were social norms that could define what girls did and what boys did. My parents had raised me in a world that came without gender limitations. The experience of realizing that others felt there were limits to what I could do and then finding advocates who would let me ignore conventional norms and limits has been a pattern throughout my life.
The luck of having parents who raised me with the grit to go after any opportunity, and continuing to be surrounded by believers and supporters, have been key factors in my career successes.
What excites you about the future of Conductor and WeWork?
Conductor is a very human company. We care a lot about our numbers and making a profit, of course, but we have a strong belief that numbers and profit are a consequence of the value that we can bring to our customers. So, from the individual contributor forward, we focus on customer value, and product usage, and believe that the revenue and profit will just follow. This approach resonates deeply with me as a person. Now that we have joined with WeWork, that approach is exactly what I see when I look at how WeWork approaches their business.
The WeWork acquisition gives us the unparalleled opportunity to humanize marketing by developing the technology to close the gap between what our customers are trying to communicate and what their customers are looking for.
What’s Conductor’s core technology mission? What’s your vision for its future?
Conductor, like most software companies, built our product as a monolithic application. This worked really well in the early stages of the SAAS lifecycle as the team was small and everyone could move at the same fast speed. As the company became more successful, as the team grew and our customer base evolved, we found ourselves in a situation where the Monolith was no longer the most appropriate model for us.
For the past few years, we have explicitly used the Strangler Pattern to evolve our codebase and migrate to a Microservices architecture that allows us more control over our scalability and deployment, and in general more independence. Delivering on the product roadmap is always our primary mission, but we have explicitly approached it with good engineering practices, an architectural pattern that makes us as future proof as possible, and supporting tooling and infrastructure to enable good CI/CD.
We are about halfway through our mission of building a modular, relatively independently buildable, deployable and scalable infrastructure, and we will continue to execute on those goals for as long as it makes sense for our business.
The work we have done so far, however, opens up a world for us to think even bigger. We work with a lot of data and we are starting to think about what further insights and information we can glean from this data to help our customers become even better organic marketers.
In the future, I see a significantly greater ability to pull valuable insights and recommendations from the very large amounts of data we collect already on our customer’s behalf. We are leveraging our technical sensibilities and craft to prioritize our customers’ needs first.
What makes Conductor’s tech team a great place to work?
Conductor is a place where we prioritize creating an environment in which everyone is empowered to do their best work. All of our processes and policies are up for evaluation. We make data-driven decisions for what is working for us and what isn’t and we have no fear of change (no matter how big or small).
We are the best fit for hard working passionate technologists who care deeply about their craft, hold themselves to a very high standard, are willing to bring everyone else along with them and put the team before themselves always. We have a mature career development plan for everyone on the team that acknowledges and values the technical contributions, leadership contributions and general scope of influence each person has on the company as a whole. We let individuals decide where they want to take their career and create opportunities to help them grow in that direction.
We have a very rigorous and data-driven interview process and a very small percentage of those who enter the process make it through. We are very protective of the culture we have created and have rejected candidates who have met our technical bar, but are not a good culture fit.
What are some Conductor innovations and projects you’re most proud of?
I can potentially list a lot of technical innovations that tickle my inner engineer, but I think the most beneficial one that we have come up with is the uniquely Conductor approach to “Sprint Demos”.
Every two weeks, all the features teams demo some of the work they have done in the past sprint to the whole company – middle school science fair-style. We get our laptops, gather around the long table in the kitchen and invite everyone to come have a beer, some snacks and a little peak into what we’ve been working on.
We also ask everyone to vote on what they liked best: the team that gets the most votes has lunch the next week with one randomly chosen person outside the tech team who voted for that demo.
This seemingly simple commitment to talking about the work, keeping everyone in the loop and hearing our team members who interact with customers more directly has led to improved innovation, adjustments to features because someone provides us with the key insight: “… you know what customers really want?”. As we have blown past the Dunbar number at our company (now over 220), this has been a helpful tool in building cross-departmental relationships.
You’re passionate about encouraging more women to rise in tech. What do business leaders need to do to support women in these roles?
At every stage of my career, I have had people around me who pointed out things I wasn’t paying attention to or was unaware of (a promotion I wasn’t asking for even though I was qualified, a project I wasn’t volunteering for even though it was right up my alley). I can take credit for grit and hard work, but I could only apply that to opportunities I could see. If there is only one thing every leader can do for all the people in their scope of influence, it’s to help guide them to see more opportunities and actually change the size of their dreams.
If you see a woman or any under-represented group of people not aiming high enough, it’s likely no one ever told them that they can and should. As a leader, you are in the unique position of being able to show them the ropes, show them how to think about the situation and themselves, share how you think about them, change their perspective. If you don’t take on that responsibility as a leader, you might miss out on the gem of talent because you didn’t pick up and polish the diamond. Missing out on recognizing and fostering the talent you have is one of the worst mistakes a leader can make.
What advice do you give to women who want to rise in the tech field?
Lead with competence and empathy. Work hard, deliver results, demand recognition for your results and don’t accept anything less. Always remember that you are working with human beings and all humans make mistakes. Don’t define people by their mistakes, define them by how they recover and grow from them.
People have a varied set of communication styles. Do not jump too quickly to an explanation that takes you down a negative path. We all eventually live in our own narratives: the more positive you can make your own narrative, the better the world will be. We have more allies in the world than we recognize. Assume everyone is an ally until data proves otherwise.
If you have unequivocal proof that you are in a situation that will not foster your growth, change your situation, not your goals.
Learn more about what Neetu’s team is building by checking out our engineering blog, Conductor Nightlight, featuring strategy and tactical guidance from our tech team.